Mar

9

My type of “spring cleaning” is a mess of sheephead on the fish-cleaning table.  The water is warming quickly and the wind is calming, so more anglers and spearfisherman are starting to venture into the gulf.

Getting the boat out and scrubbing the winter coat of mildew is made easier by the anticipation of the coming season.  The talk of the shortest snapper season and stricter limits on other species doesn’t dampen the excitement of the first trip.  Some of us have been spearing fish all winter, when the seas would let us escape the dock.  For many, their first excursion in 2013 is this month.  Besides staring at a wall of red snapper and remaining alert for early cobia, we pass the time underwater stacking up sheephead.

 sheephead

This is a great fish to target this time of year because their numbers are plentiful.  They aren’t a spooky fish that will disappear after shooting 1 or 2, and usually allow for a close shot.  They are plentiful for only a few more weeks.  I’m not sure if it is because they disburse after mating, or the spring break charter trips wipe the inshore sites clean. Whatever the case, we see them all year but not in large numbers like we do now.  Many fishermen believe they are too hard to clean because of their large rib cage. But your friend that is always volunteering to take all your sheephead, is very familiar with the mild flavor and white, flaky meat.

Many underwater hunters think of early spring as the tune-up season.  Venturing to the inshore rigs and brushing up on their diving skills and getting their aim back.  Just as bow hunters start practicing with backyard targets months before bow season, spearfisherman need to inspect their rigging and practice loading and shooting their spearguns.  The difference is, spearguns cannot be shot out of the water at land targets.  The only way to practice is to get out and dive…thus the big attraction of sheephead in March.  April usually hosts the first wave of migrating cobia.  As soon as the gulf waters reach the magic 68F, we start seeing cobia on the inshore sites.  Early spring divers are always scanning into the distance, hoping to see a curious cobia head your way.

 Cobia

The smaller size and liberal creel limits on sheephead make them a great fish for new spearos to develop their hunting skills.  Once a diver has honed his diving skills, many look to add a camera or speargun to their dive plan.  Since spearing fish can be challenging and even dangerous in extreme cases, we incourage new hunters to begin with small species and work their way up to the big boys like amberjack and cobia.  The challenge of wrestling the large fish isn’t an issue with the smaller fish.  I have never heard of a diver being towed around by a 6lb. sheephead!

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this season.  A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or tennis lessons. But if you are like me, then you understand the real fun happens in salt water!   So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna’ see what’s down there.”  Make that “One day” happen this year.

Nov

12

If you don’t dive yet, some of what you “know” about diving might actually be wrong. A lot of these “myths’ are perpetuated in the media and movies, and you might be surprised at what is right and what myths are “busted!” Which one of these myths have you been believing all along?

MYTH: You have to be in top physical condition to dive.

TRUTH: Like any active sport, diving is more enjoyable if you’re physically fit. And you do need some basic swimming skills in order to learn. But it’s nothing extreme; if you’re comfortable in the deep end of a pool, can swim, and you can walk for several minutes without getting winded, you can learn to dive.

MYTH: Becoming a certified diver takes too long.

TRUTH: You can become a certified diver in a very short period of time, or you can take your time and learn at your own pace. Gulf Coast Diver’s VIP-PACE training program can accomodate anyone’s schedule, or you can sign up for private sessions. Our Variable Investment Program-Paced According to Capability and Enjoyment says it all.  You’ll be diving in less time than you think!

MYTH: Diving is complicated and difficult to learn.

TRUTH:  Learning to dive is easy. Our professional diving instructors use all the learning materials and proven strategies to make it simple and fun to learn. Before you know it you’ll be breathing underwater and using all the cool “toys” that make diving easier than ever.

MYTH: I’m too old to learn.

TRUTH:  We regularly hear about people diving, and learning to dive, well into their eighties. In fact one of the most active “groups” of divers is in the age range from 38 to 53. On the whole, this group dives more regularly, travels more to dive, and even takes more classes than most other “groups.”  Our own repair technician, Capt. Bill, is 77 years old and usually logs around 40 dives a year!

MYTH: I have no one to dive with.

TRUTH:  Diving is an exciting and unique experience that many people take up while on vacation or as a life-long activity. Finding buddies with which to dive is as easy as participating in one of our group dives and showing up for the regular Gulf Coast Diving Society social events. You’ll probably have ready-to-dive buddies that you’ll meet during your scuba certification course. Chances are you’ll find that you have lots in common with these other divers, usually more than the diving experience itself!  Plus, you probably have friends now that are certified divers, you just didn’t know they dove. Join Gulf Coast Dive Society on facebook and you will have dozens of dive and snorkel buddies.

MYTH: When you dive you breathe differently than you do on land.

TRUTH: Breathing naturally while underwater is one of the most terrific sensations you’ll ever experience, and one of the first things you’ll learn in your certification course. You will find that about the only difference between breathing air on land and underwater is that you must breathe through the regulator in your mouth – and since today’s regulators are so well made that breathing is made very simple and natural, even this part is easy.  You will be breathing underwater in your very first session, for only $24.

MYTH: It’s dark and murky underwater and difficult to see.

TRUTH: Most dives do not require a light since sunlight penetrates far deeper than the depth to which most divers go. Even when diving in very deep water, beyond 100 feet, divers can see quite well without any artificial light. Interestingly, colors are absorbed by the water, so while it may be very easy to see, most of the color begins to be absorbed beyond 30 to 50 feet of depth, rendering most everything blue.

Most divers do not dive in water with limited visibility unless they are looking for something special, like a lost wedding ring or an outboard motor from a neighbor’s boat. Some of these locations can give the diver the opportunity to see wrecks or find treasures, and with the proper training, limited visibility is not a significant diving obstacle. When diving from the beach the visibility will vary with the tides, but just a few miles from Mobile Bay, the clearer gulf waters will surprise you.  Or maybe, you are only interested in travel diving on vacation, each can provide their own brand of fun!

Whatever your reasons for not learning to dive, rethink them and consider giving it a try.  You can experience the thrill of being underwater for only $24, then decide whether you really want to miss out on the wonders of our oceans.

 

Sep

18

Now that our short red snapper season has come and gone it is time to shift back into amberjack mode.  These are the hardest fighting fish species that we target as spearfisherman.  It is because of their strength they are called “Pez Fuerte” south of the border.  In English it means “strong fish”!

 Their size and strength contribute to the excitement as the ultimate target species in underwater hunting.  Amberjack are targeted only by experienced spearos that have developed their aim well enough to “stone ‘em”.  But it only takes missing the kill spot by 2 inches to be dealt an exciting fight.  Underwater video of good and bad shots is a great tool to use in training new hunters.

 A huge trend among spearfisherman this season has been shooting video.  Most of the hunters I dive with have added camera mounts to their guns to video the excitement of the stalk, hunt and fight.

 It is easy to get a good quality, high definition video camera and underwater housing in a very small package and for a reasonable price.  The logical next step was to mount it to your mask or your gun and capture the action. Non-diving friends and family are amazed at the action and scenes that we enjoy every time we venture under the gulf. A fisherman sitting in the boat 70 feet above the action, has no idea what goes on below. The freedom of being able to select your own fish and just seeing all the species that inhabit the sites that they fish.  Instead of guessing what the colored pixels on your bottom machine represent, why don’t you jump in and have a look?

 The Sealife and GoPro-style cameras can be mounted out of the way leaving the hunter free to press “record” then forget about the camera and get on with the hunt.

The added bonus is seeing all the fish species on the reef, not just the ones biting.  The video evidence from divers has been instrumental in educating the “powers that be” on the proliferation of the red snapper population in the northern Gulf of Mexico, in hopes of getting the season and creel limits relaxed.

Divers have provided the video evidence of the Lionfish invasion to our coastal reefs.  Because Lionfish don’t bite a hook, most fisherman only read articles about the invasion.  We’ve seen the Lionfish go from a rare sighting 2 years ago, to a common species.

 Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training, spearfishing and underwater videography.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready sooner than you think. Then you can grab your Sealife camera and be uploading You Tube videos after your first trip.

Jul

12

This may seem like something out of a science fiction movie: researchers have designed microparticles that can be injected directly into the bloodstream to quickly oxygenate your body, even if you can’t breathe anymore. It’s one of the best medical breakthroughs in recent years, and one that could save millions of lives every year.

The invention, developed by a team at Boston Children’s Hospital, will allow medical teams to keep patients alive and well for 15 to 30 minutes despite major respiratory failure. This is enough time for doctors and emergency personnel to act without risking a heart attack or permanent brain injuries in the patient.

The solution has already been successfully tested on animals under critical lung failure. When the doctors injected this liquid into the patient’s veins, it restored oxygen in their blood to near-normal levels, granting them those precious additional minutes of life.

Particles of fat and oxygen

The particles are composed of oxygen gas pocketed in a layer of lipids, a natural molecule that usually stores energy or serves as a component to cell membranes. Lipids can be waxes, some vitamins, monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, or—as in this case—fats.

These fatty oxygen particles are about two to four micrometers in size. They are suspended in a liquid solution that can be easily carried and used by paramedics, emergency crews and intensive care personnel. This seemingly magic elixir carries “three to four times the oxygen content of our own red blood cells.”

Similar solutions have failed in the past because they caused gas embolism, rather than oxygenating the cells. According to John Kheir, MD at the Department of Cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital, they solved the problem by using deformable particles, rather than bubbles:

We have engineered around this problem by packaging the gas into small, deformable particles. They dramatically increase the surface area for gas exchange and are able to squeeze through capillaries where free gas would get stuck.

Kheir had the idea of an injected oxygen solution started after he had to treat a little girl in 2006. Because of a lung hemorrhage caused by pneumonia, the girl sustained severe brain injuries which, ultimately, lead to her death before the medical team could place her in a heart-lung machine.

Soon after, Kheir assembled a team of chemical engineers, particle scientists, and medical doctors to work on this idea, which had promising results from the very beginning:

Some of the most convincing experiments were the early ones. We drew each other’s blood, mixed it in a test tube with the microparticles, and watched blue blood turn immediately red, right before our eyes.

It sounds like magic, but it was just the start of what, after years of investigation, became this real life-giving liquid in a bottle.

This is what the future is about. And it’s a beautiful one indeed, one that is arriving earlier than we ever could have expected. I wonder if this would find its way to other uses. I can see it as an emergency injection in a spaceship, for example. But what about getting a shot for diving?

Feb

23

Maybe you are on your way to your first open water dives, or your first dives in awhile and you become aware of butterflies in your stomach. Perhaps you recognize it the night before the big day, and the apprehension keeps you from getting a good nights sleep. These are symptoms of the “pre-dive jitters”.  At one time or another every diver will experience this nervous feeling.

It is normal to be a little nervous about a new dive experience, but it’s important to recognize that butterflies are an indication that more practice and experience are needed to become a totally confident diver. The way to get this practice is by diving and continuing education.

Before your first dive, assemble your gear at home and adjust all straps, check assembly procedure and function of every item.  Having to adjust unfamiliar gear aboard a boat prior to diving can force you to rush. Rushing leads to anxiety which contributes to pre-dive nerves.

Owning your own personal gear reduces anxiety because you are familiar with it, know how it’s been maintained and have a proper fit. Proper fitting, well maintained equipment reduces stress, increases mental and physical comfort, and maximizes enjoyment.

Pay close attention to pre-dive plans and divemaster briefings and never hesitate to ask questions if you don’t hear clearly or don’t understand what was said.  If you have apprehensions, anxieties, questions or problems, please ASK FOR HELP from the group leader or divemaster. The key to overcoming pre-dive jitters is not to keep them a secret. Remember the divemasters job is to help with these issues. When informed, they will help you go at your own pace and develop your skills and confidence.

Our unique “Real-World Diving” class is a great way to learn what to expect on your dive excursions.  You’ve learned what to do underwater…this class teaches you how to do it.  Some of the topics discussed: charter boat diving, shore diving, private boat diving, how to rig your boat for diving, oil rig diving, buoy diving and international travel. New and experienced divers will learn something new in this class.

Enrolling in a continuing education course provides a great opportunity to build confidence through knowledge as well as a chance to work with an instructor to fine-tune your diving skills.  The more you dive, the more comfortable you become.  The more comfortable you become, the more fun you will have.  For information on becoming a more confident diver call (251) 342-2970.

Dec

14

Materials: The quality of a wetsuit begins with the base material.  High-quality neoprene will resist fading and deterioration from salt, chlorine, UV exposure and compression at depth. Cheap neoprene will compress at depth and permanently lose the suit’s insulation and durability. Fit is the most critical aspect. Instead of opting for a thicker suit, most divers on the gulf coast stay warm by layering thinner neoprene. Layering insulates better and gives you more flexibility, because the pieces slide along each other instead of having to stretch. Having several thinner wetsuit pieces allows for versatility for changing water temps.  On the gulf coast, our water temperature can change almost 30 degrees throughout the year. Having the proper thermal protection for the season means, versatility.

Undergarment: To stay warm, a suit traps water against the skin which your body heats up, acting as a thermal barrier. Using a dive skin as your base layer and layering several wetsuit pieces over this will increase warmth.  This layering technique will increase the efficiency of your suit by more effectively trapping water in the suit.  It also makes your suit more versatile by allowing you to adjust for seasonal changes in water temperature and match your thermal protection to conditions of each dive.  Using a base layer, like LavaCore, will boost the insulating capability because it adds the equivalent of 2mm thermal protection without added bulk or buoyancy.

Skins: A smooth-surfaced “skin” in cuffs, necks and flaps behind zippers help reduce water movement in/ out of your wetsuit.  These water barriers reduce the cooler water flushing in as you swim and keeps warm water trapped inside the suit.  A dive skin worn as a base layer will reduce water movement and take up space inside your wetsuit.  This reduces the amount of water in the suit, which means less water you have to heat up, resulting in less heat loss.

Texture: The #1 killer of wetsuits is tears, from knee abrasion while kneeling on the bottom or tears from struggling to pull on a suit that isn’t stretchy enough to slide on.  The simple solution to address abrasions from the environment is to practice good buoyancy control.  Stress from tears can be avoided with a super stretchy material that is easy to put on and smooth nylon coatings that allow the suit to “glide” on.  Dive skins also allow the suit to slide on more easily, and make the suit more comfortable.

Come talk to our suit professionals about designing a thermal system that is right for you.  Whether you are hot or cold natured we have a wetsuit combo for you. Not sure, jump in our 15’ deep in-store pool and try it out. Gulf Coast Divers (251) 342-2970.

Dec

10

Even though the modern personal dive computers are very reliable and rarely malfunction, the possibility still exists.  Looking down at your computer in the middle of a dive and seeing a blank screen can be stressful sight.  Most computer issues are battery related or caused by flooding.  The flooding usually follows an improperly sealed battery compartment or a crack in the housing caused by trauma to the computer.  The problem is the crack was probably suffered in your gear bag during transport and you don’t even realize it until it is too late.

Because of the possibility of a dive, or entire dive day, being ruined because of a computer issue, most divers dive with 2 personal computers.  Oceanic’s new B.U.D. (Back-Up Dive) computer is the perfect addition to your dive kit.  It clips to your B/C and tracks all your dive info. and can be used as a primary computer, quick-glance status, back-up or spare.

The B.U.D. is small enough to clip to any d-ring on your B/C and you will hardly even know it is there, but has an easy to read display.  It has full computer functions, including nitrox compatibility.  Economically priced at $329.00.

Nov

22

Oceanic VT4.0 – Scuba Diving Magazine Gear of the Year

The Oceanic VT4.0 was featured in the most recent issue of Scuba Diving Magazine and was one of only three dive computers in the whole industry to be awarded with ScubaLab’s coveted Testers Choice, Best Buy and Editor’s Choice designations. The VT4.0′s easy to read display and intuitive menu system have been earning it a great reputation since its release. Oceanic’s patented Dual Algorithm was specially pointed out, a feature that separates Oceanic’s dive computers from the rest. Here’s what they had to say about the VT4.0: “Featuring a wide array of user settings at a reasonable price, ­Oceanic’s new VT 4.0 was an easy ­selection for ­Testers’ Choice. The VT4.0 includes a sweet-looking three-axis digital compass, the ability to monitor up to four transmitters, an intuitive interface and easy-to-read data display. Perhaps most impressive was the ability to change decompression ­algorithms — to make it more ­liberal or ­conservative — in a ­compact wrist-mounted package.”

Sep

12

All are invited to join the Gulf Coast Diving Society for dinner at Ed’s Seafood Shack, 3382 Battleship Parkway, Spanish Fort on Monday, October 3rd, 2011 @ 6:30 pm. Monday nights are all-you can-eat mullet so come and enjoy. This is a great way to meet new dive buddies, reaquaint with old buddies, introduce someone to the social aspect of being a diver on the beautiful gulf coast. Get the latest news on local trips, international excursions, new equipment or just hang out. Bring your laptop and share some of your pics and videos. This event is FREE, just pay for whatever you eat and drink. Most folks will be bringing the whole family and ordering dinner. For more info. call (251) 342-2970. Please rsvp to the same number, we need to let the restaurant know how many hungry divers to expect.

Jul

19

We have seen a huge increase in interest in diving among fisherman.  Some inquiries are from anglers searching for alternative fishing methods and many have been from sportsman wanting to see what they are fishing on.

Our spearfishing sites are the same reefs, wrecks and rigs that you are probably fishing right now.  Some adventurers begin diving and put away the rod-n-reel in favor of a speargun, but most still pursue both recreations.  Seeing the site and the way the fish stack-up on the site will make you a much smarter angler.  Being able to visualize the way fish hold on different sites gives the angler another tool to target a specific species.

Diving one of the many army tanks, sunk as artificial reefs, is always a memorable experience the first time.  We get the same comment from most divers upon surfacing; “I can’t believe it was a real army tank!”  Even though they knew it was a tank, their mind didn’t process an “ARMY TANK” sitting on the bottom.

One of our boat captains, Todd McGill, said that the desire to dive down and actually see the “Edwards” wreck is what drove him to learn to dive.  “I’ve fished that wreck for years and I had a deep desire to see the actual wreck, not just colored pixels on my bottom machine”.

How many “private” sites have fisherman given you that were “red hot” but you had no idea what it was.  These sites have lots of rumors surrounding them…chicken coup, tires, concrete culverts, pile of shopping carts or a concrete pyramid.  The reality is most look very similar on your bottom finder.  I dove a “private” site years ago that a fishing buddy said his dad put down as a reef.  He paid a reef builder to put this school bus out for them and he wanted me to go down and take pictures. “It has been a really hot site and we want to get an idea of it’s condition” he said.  I dove it and returned with his roll of film to develop…yep it was awhile ago.  I handed him his film and began describing the condition of the railroad boxcar.  “No man, this is a school bus” he exclaimed.  Even though I had just seen it, and yes it was loaded with fish, he didn’t believe me until he developed the film.  He had fished what he thought was a school bus for years.  Chances are the reef builder did put his school bus out, and he or his dad got their Loran numbers (told you it was awhile ago) mixed up in his notebook.  His disappointment had to do with the nostalgia of his dad’s site, not it’s productivity.

A fisherman’s GPS has generic site descriptions like wreck, good beeliners, hot trigger spot. A diver’s GPS has actual descriptions like shrimp boat, ½ barge, Bridge rubble, boxcar, etc.

To get a first hand look at you fishing spots, call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready sooner than you think.  Don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna’ see what’s down there.”  Make that “One day” happen this year.

Jun

13

MYTH: The ocean is full of dangerous animals like sharks and barracudas.

TRUTH: Most divers actually consider a shark sighting to be a special and memorable occasion, since it is rare to see them. While such critters as sharks and barracudas should be respected and treated as wild animals, the vast majority subsist on a diet of things considerably smaller than a scuba diver. In fact, most sharks and barracuda are somewhat intimidated by divers; with our long fins and other equipment, we appear big to them … something they don’t want to mess with! Besides, it’s a myth that sharks are perpetually hungry or are always on the attack. It’s not uncommon at all for a shark to go two weeks without hunting, and in one documented case, a healthy shark did not eat for better than a year.

MYTH: It’s very cold underwater.

TRUTH: Many divers choose only to dive in warm water in Florida, the Caribbean, Hawaii or in the South Pacific, where water temperatures may soar to more than 80 degrees F (27 degrees C). But with the proper thermal protection a diver can do plenty of diving in the cooler months. I am a real “wimp” when it comes to cold water and I dive year ’round.  You just dress for the temp.

MYTH: You cannot see anything underwater if you normally wear contact lenses or corrective eye glasses.

TRUTH: Many divers use gas-permeable contact lenses when they dive allowing them to see quite normally. To prevent the accidental loss of contacts, (or for those who don’t normally use contact lenses) many divers use a mask with prescription lenses built right in. There are even high quality dive masks available with corrective “readers” built in for close-up viewing of tiny critters (or the settings on your digital underwater camera)!

MYTH: It’s expensive.

TRUTH: When you put it up against other leisure activities, such as owning a quality mountain bike, golfing, boating, or skiing, diving compares very favorably. And the more you dive, the more true that becomes. Dive gear, for instance, is very durable and can last for years and years; after a short while, the cost of your gear can work out to just a few pennies per dive.  I know many divers that dive regularly and safely with 15 year old equipment.  The key is servicing and maintaining your equipment.

MYTH: Diving is a very dangerous activity.

TRUTH: When done within the guidelines you’ll learn about in your open water certification course, diving has an extraordinary safety record. Diving is an exciting activity that combines all the thrills of exploration and adventure, with a safety record that compares favorably to sports such as bowling.

MYTH: I live too far inland, there’s no place to dive around here.

TRUTH: There are dive sites in every state in the United States – even the ones in the heart of the country. Not all diving is done in the ocean. Lakes, rivers, quarries and freshwater springs are all regularly used by divers as places where they can enjoy their sport and keep their skills up. We can help you find great locations to dive locally, and you could find yourself diving every weekend, or even during an extended lunch time!

MYTH: All that equipment is going to weigh me down and I won’t be able to get back to the surface.

TRUTH: Actually, scuba divers are usually dealing with the opposite issue – how to make the gear heavy enough to go comfortably underwater. Most divers need ballast, in the form of lead weights, in order to comfortably submerge and stay submerged.  And if floatation is ever necessary, this weight is designed to be instantly droppable at the pull of a buckle or a release.

MYTH: I tried going underwater and I can’t, it hurts my ears.

TRUTH: Most likely you were experiencing discomfort because you hadn’t been taught how to equalize the pressure in your inner ear with that of the surrounding water (a procedure similar to making your ears “pop” on an airliner). This is a very easy-to-learn technique that will be taught early on in your open-water scuba course.

MYTH: I’m physically challenged, so diving is something I will never be able to do.

TRUTH: Many dive instructors are very proficient at teaching people with physical restrictions. It’s no longer unusual to see a person in a wheelchair boarding a dive boat. In fact, diving is so accessible a sport that it is sometimes used as a therapeutic activity for people who’ve lost limbs during their active duty in military service.

For those with physical challenges, any individual who can meet the performance requirements for the course can qualify for certification as a scuba diver. Check with your professional instructor or retail dive center for additional information if needed.

MYTH: I’m very petite, the dive gear will never fit me.

TRUTH: Dive gear is available now to fit individuals as small as pre-adolescent children. The piece of gear that smaller people view as a potential obstacle is the tank, but since people of smaller stature generally don’t consume as much air, they can comfortably dive with the smaller tanks that many dive centers have on hand.

MYTH: I have a medical condition that precludes diving.

TRUTH: While it’s true that there are some medical issues that are incompatible with scuba diving, the list is shorter that you might think. Ask your local dive center for a set of guidelines that you can take to your family doctor so he or she can evaluate your fitness for diving. You might find out that what you’ve believed all along isn’t actually the case.

Apr

4

Ok, I admit it…I’ve been lost underwater before and it wasn’t fun.  I remember an especially stressful dive with 3 others, following me (the divemaster) and I had no clue where the mooring line was.  It was a fairly shallow dive (40fsw)  in Puerto Rico on Enrique Reef and I was lost.  I had dove this reef several times, but didn’t have a real good idea of it’s geography.   I had a compass but hadn’t referenced it before beginning the dive so I knew which direction I was headed, but didn’t know what  heading was home.  Because of the shallow depth, it was an especially long dive, so we covered alot of ground.  About 45 minutes into the dive I started wandering back in the direction I thought was close.  I thought I recognized several coral heads and large sponges, but wasn’t sure.  Several times I attempted to ascend and look for the boat, but the other divers were stuck to me like glue.  When I began to ascend so did they.  I didn’t want them to know I was lost, so I slipped back to the reef and keep swimming.  We finally made our ascent after 80 min. and we were about 50′ from the boat.  I was astounded and a little proud.  As I ran the boat back to the dock, the pride dissolved when I admitted it wasn’t navigation skill, but dumb luck that got us back without a marathon surface swim.

That dive was 15 years ago and I still remember the stress of not knowing were I was underwater.  I now make navigation a priority on all of my dives and stress it to my students.  Whether you are using natural navigation by remembering distinctive landmarks or using a compass, it is important to insure you return to your predetermined exit point.  Most divers aren’t comfortable with their compass, so tend to hang out close to the anchorline.  This is fine, and preferable to getting lost.  But, if you can confidently swim furthur away from the crowd, you will see more life, have better visibility and usually encounter  less stressed reef inhabitants.

My boat dive briefing stresses that you not venture any furthur away from the ascent line than you can confidently return with YOUR navigation skills, not your buddies skills.  What if you get seperated during the dive and you were just following them?  EVERY diver should take a navigation specialty course to learn to effectively use their compass, then practice your skills on every dive.  The more you dive the same sites, the more confidently you can swim around it recognizing natural landmarks.  For new divers and new sites, I suggest venturing out then come back and find the ascent line.  Then swim in another direction, exploring and return to the line.  By returning to the anchor line several times during a dive, you become very familiar with the immediate area and don’t swim as far away, minimizing your return distance.   Over-confidence in your ability to return may tempt you to swim farther than you should.  Be realistic about your navigation skills.

Some divers use a reel or finger spool to venture away from the ascent line, while heplful in many instances, they can be awkward and create entanglement hazards if not careful.  A line can be helpful in very low visibility, when you can be only feet from the line and not see it,  it is not an alternative to good navigation skills. 

The development of your navigation skills is a must in advancing your diving comfort.  The “take away” from this article is simply, “Get a compass and learn to use it, every dive!”  Call (251) 342-2970 and inquire about our next navigation specialty course.

Mar

22

Cozumel, Calica, Progresso are mystical sounding Mayan sites and Mexican destinations with beautiful reefs.  Imagine being at work on wednesday and dreaming of diving Mexican reefs on friday.  Too good to be true, no way.  This is exactly what dozens of divers do every week.  The cruise ship Carnival Elation departs weekly from downtown Mobile to the Mayan Riviera and several great diving destinations.

Cozumel is a well-known diving destination and home to the world famous Palancar Reef, which gives divers and snorkelers the opportunity to view thousands of brilliantly colored fish. Non-divers can kick back on a sun-drenched beach, kayak, swim, shop in colorful marketplaces, dine in an open-air café, or hiking mayan ruins.  All this starting around $300.  A 4 day western caribbean cruise including a full day of diving is cheaper than a long weekend in Destin!

Carnival Cruise Lines should continue the weekly cruises from Mobile until october this year, so book you trip soon to save the drive to New Orleans.    The 3-4 day cruises have become very popular with busy famalies.  It is easier to fit a couple of 3 day cruises into the kids soccer schedule, than to block off an entire week for summer vacation.  Call us at (251) 342-2970 for advice on what to see and do on the Mayan Riviera this spring.

Feb

17

Spearfishing can be an exhilarating way to put seafood on your family table.  It is, without question, the most selective way to harvest fish with very few lost fish and zero bycatch.  We spearos have a responsibility to land most of the fish we shoot, which means minimizing lost fish due to “tear-out”.  If a strong fish is shot in the belly or if the spear didn’t penetrate far enough through the fish, that fish may tear off, swim away and die.  A powerful, accurate speargun can help reduce this type of loss.

The most common reason for lost fish is a poor shot.  Choosing the right speargun for your hunting style and locale will maximize your results and increase your enjoyment.  Using the proper tip, such as breakaway and slip-tips, also helps reduce lost fish.  Ideally, you may want a variety of different guns to suit the various types of hunting conditions you will encounter.  Some of the things you should take into consideration are water clarity, game size, proximity to fish and gun rigging.  I use a pole spear for flounder and shore access dives because it is easier to handle around jetties, fish species are smaller and visibility can be limited.  You never want a gun that will shoot outside of visible range.  I recommend a 36” to 42” gun for smaller game fish such as triggerfish, scamp, black snapper and sheephead.  These species usually allow for closer approach which reduces the range the gun has to propel the shaft.   If your target species are amberjack, cobia and red snapper you will want more range and power and a 48” to 52” gun may be more appropriate.

The best way to become a good “spearo” is to dive with spearfisherman and watch how they approach, shoot and string fish, then dive alot and practice those skills.  Before you can become a good hunter, you must be a great diver.  New divers ask me often to recommend a number of logged dives as a goal before picking up a gun.  My answer is, there is no magic number.  A more accurate determination is skill level.  When you shoot your first fish, your attention will automatically zoom in on that fish and the fight.  But, you can’t forget about air consumption, depth, time, navigation, proximity to buddy and ascent rate, to name a few.  My recommendation is don’t start diving with distractions (spearguns, cameras, scooters) until your fundamental dive skills are automatic.

The points above are just a few of the topics discussed in our spearfishing class.  I will discuss general information for spearfishing on the gulf coast and equipment specifics relating to guns and local species in this series.  I will try to post a new article every week discussing different spearfishing topics.  Watch this blog for new articles and call me at (251) 342-2970 to ask questions on these or any other discussion topics.

Feb

5

How’s that title for an attention grabber?  All are invited to join Gulf Coast Diving Society for All-You-Can-Eat Mullet @ Ed’s Seafood Shack on the Causeway monday, March 7th @ 6:30pm.  These events are great way to meet new dive buddies or catch up with old ones.  Get the latest news on local trips, international excursions, new equipment or just hang out and eat, drink and be merry. Share your latest pics and videos.  It’s FREE to show up and hangout and most folks will probably be ordering dinner.  Bring the whole family or your diving Valentine for date night. Please RSVP to Gulf Coast Divers @ (251) 342-2970.  We need to have an idea of how many to expect to let Ed’s know how much room we need.

Jan

26

Divers on the gulf coast seem to be conditioned for summer time diving. Warm salt water, it seems, is the only way to go. Cooler temperatures and the prevailing winter weather patterns that make the Gulf of Mexico a less than friendly place for diving means dive gear get pushed to the back of the closet in favor of other diversions like football, hunting, and the holiday season. The problem with that is sometimes the dive gear never makes it back out of the closet at the return of warm weather and, if it does, it takes awhile to brush the dust of the diving skills you honed the season before.

Just because the gulf is unavailable doesn’t mean you have to forget about diving and, in this part of the country, it doesn’t mean your only diving alternatives are expensive international trips or swimming pools. There are quite a few dive destinations on the gulf coast that are open year round and not subject to weather that makes the gulf a no go.

Vortex Springs in Ponce De Leon, Florida is the perfect winter dive destination and is one of my favorites.

Vortex Springs between dives

Vortex Springs

Vortex Springs is open for diving 364 days a year and is only about 2 hours and 15 minutes from the front door of Gulf Coast Divers shop. You can make a day trip, stay in a local motel or stay right at Vortex Springs. Vortex offers several large lodges, cabins, cottages and a campground if you want to stay on site.

The entry fee is $19.00 for each diver and $10.00 for non divers. You can also rent canoes or kayaks and there is even a motocross and ATV track, $20.00 per day, when you are ready for a break from diving.

Crystal clear waters of the springs provide excellent diving.  If you have the appropriate certifications you can gain access to the cave system at Vortex Springs. Without the proper cave diving certification you are limited to the artificial caves and other things in the spring as well as Blue Creek which leads out of the spring. The spring is also full of a variety of fresh water marine life. Carp, crappie, bass, eels, turtles and crawfish call the spring home and are quite used to divers. Bring a little offering for the fish and you can have a great time and get some great photos.

Keep in mind the springs are no secret. It seems divers from all over the country find their way there. Things can get a little crowded on some days. It pays to get there early or you can stay late to get the best visibility. Bad buoyancy control can cloud the water quickly but, since there is a constant outflow of clear fresh water from the spring, the visibility improves quickly when divers exercise good buoyancy control. Weekday dives provide the greatest possibility of encountering crystal clear water and unlimited visibility for all of your dives.

Make sure you dress appropriately for your dives. The water at Vortex Springs is a constant 68 degrees. In the summer it can feel a little cool. In the winter it can feel downright warm. You will see some guys in dry suits but for most, a good fitting full wetsuit (3 or 5 mil as you desire) and hood is enough. I’ve even seen divers making repeated dives in nothing more than a bathing suit. To each his own I guess.

If you get the chance visit Vortex Springs for an excellent day of diving.

Contact Info:

Vortex Springs
1517 Vortex Spring Ln.
Ponce De Leon,
Florida 32455

Phone: (800) 342 – 0640
Phone: (850) 836 – 4979

Gulf Coast Divers: (251) 342-2970